Background: We hypothesized that trauma patients could be discharged safely from the emergency department (ED) before the availability of official readings for their radiologic examinations. We also sought to determine whether trauma patients were more prone to alterations of preliminary interpretations than other ED patients.
Methods: Alterations of preliminary readings (PR) for patients discharged from the ED were reviewed. If the official readings conflicted with the PR used for the patient's disposition, attempts were made to contact the patient and provide the appropriate follow-up. Data recorded included the type of radiographic examination, the presence of a missed injury, and the follow-up. By using institutional data, the incidence of inaccurate PR were compared for trauma patients and other ED patients (chi2 test, Fisher exact test, p < 0.05).
Results: Between January of 1998 and December of 1998, 102 of 38,260 discharged ED patients had official readings differing from PR. Forty-three of the changed readings involved 42 of the 1,073 discharged trauma patients, who were more likely to harbor inaccurate PR (<0.0001) than other discharged ED patients. Twenty-eight altered readings involved plain films and 15 involved computed tomographic scans. The most common altered readings involved computed tomographic scans of the head and face (n = 13). Twelve missed injuries were detected, most commonly related to a missed injury of the extremity (7 cases). Nine other cases involved the detection of incidental pathologic conditions. Eight patients required repeat ED visits for clinical and radiographic evaluation, and one patient required subsequent hospital admission.
Conclusion: Discharged trauma patients are more likely to harbor alterations of preliminary interpretations than other ED patients. Although the official readings for these trauma patients will occasionally reveal previously undetected pathologic conditions, the majority of such cases can be managed with outpatient follow-up.